Spyware - required by law on South Korean teenagers' smartphones

Smartphone spywareIt seems it's not that much fun being a teenager in South Korea.

Not only are lonely teens texting imaginary friends to tell them how sad they feel, but government-endorsed spyware which can monitor young people's online activity and location is flourishing.

As the Associated Press reports, apps such as "Smart Sheriff" - which was was funded and developed by the South Korean government - have been downloaded over 480,000 times and that figure is only going to go up.

The reason? South Korea's Korea Communications Commission are insisting that telecoms companies and parents ensure that Smart Sheriff (or one of the other apps with similar features to snoop on youngsters' activities) are installed on any new smartphone used by someone aged 18 years old or less.

Of course, not everyone has a new smartphone - but the Associated Press reports that most South Korean schools are telling parents that they should install the software anyway.

Smart Sheriff

One of the reasons why you might want an app like Smart Sheriff installed on your children's phones is that it can control access to pornographic or adult websites, as well as block access to gambling apps. In addition, like many parental control services, it can control excessive internet usage by restricting access to particular hours of the day.

But some of the monitoring apps go further than that, says AP:

Some send a child's location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as "suicide," "pregnancy" and "bully" or receives messages with those words.

In short, the apps can look at every phrase the smartphone user searches for, every message that they send or receive, and can track the physical location of the owner.

Uncomfortable yet? Just remember that use of this software has been written into law in South Korea.

SpyingAnd if it's for those 18 years old and younger today, why shouldn't the authorities push it to be extended to older smartphone owners in future? Why not take over the microphone to listen to what is being said, or see what images are taken through the camera?

When will we see the authorities in other countries pushing for this kind of surveillance in, say, the fight against terrorism?

Once again, the perils of modern society where the majority of us are willingly carrying an electronic spy in our pocket are highlighted.

South Korea, of course, is a highly developed country when it comes to all things technology, and the government says that eight out of ten South Koreans aged 18 or lower own a smartphone.

Indeed, an astonishing 72% of elementary school children owned a smartphone in 2013, and that number is bound to have reached even higher in the time since. That's an awful lot of young people whose privacy is being eroded.

If you're a teenager in South Korea, maybe you would be smarter to wait until your 19th birthday before owning your first smartphone.

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4 Responses

  1. The Grocer

    May 19, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    Only one step away from being microchipped at birth !

  2. Bonkers

    May 19, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    What better way to ensure that the smartphone is in the possession of its rightful owner !
    No "phone parties" where one girl babysits all her friends' phones while they go out.
    You're wasted as a grocer mate. ;-)

  3. Coyote

    May 20, 2015 at 1:52 am #

    "One of the reasons why you might want an app like Smart Sheriff installed on your children's phones is that it can control access to pornographic or adult websites, as well as block access to gambling apps. In addition, like many parental control services, it can control excessive internet usage by restricting access to particular hours of the day."

    Or then again… can it ? Even though most places (including this incident) didn't have Internet access at the time, computers at schools have been around a lot longer than that. Yet if you would have believed the librarians (among others) at the school I went to (and I would be shocked if they haven't made similar nonsensical claims – i.e. lies – about others since my time), I was doing everything to cause mayhem at the computers (as if that would take effort). I was so awful that they wouldn't let me touch their computers because I'd remove their lousy security restrictions ('parental control'). In reality I went to the library to read (the irony is too much) and I never was fond of easy (e.g. removing brain dead parental control 'protections') things – I like a real challenge (and I fear that clicking an input device isn't much of a challenge, either, which takes GUIs in general out of the equation – they have their uses but I don't consider them entertaining). There's my point of course – even though I had far better things to do (I have enjoyed reading ever since I was able to and libraries have books after all) they were correct in one thing; I could have removed the parental control. But here's the thing – just as I could have removed parental control so could others. Unfortunately this is mostly irrelevant which is to say the reason for this spyware isn't for parents. There's a more critical point:

    "When will we see the authorities in other countries pushing for this kind of surveillance in, say, the fight against terrorism?"
    Indeed the question is 'when' and not 'if'. Even though the concept of terrorism (state sponsored too!) is is a lot older than all of us (imagine that, an ideal is older than all of us…)[1]. The real difference here: there is more technology to monitor so all they are doing is tightening the noose. They'll still make the same claims about this or that and they'll even go so far as to make the same claims repeatedly (I'm sure that if they needed X to increase security and they gained X but something happens anyway then all they have to do is gain X again…. their drug of choice is control and power, isn't it?) even though every previous identical request didn't solve the problem. It's quite simple then: their justification is a lie; what they're really saying is they found another way to get more power (the problem was they didn't have as much as they wanted). That's the issue, their problem and the excuse is irrelevant in the end (it is still unsettling the extremes they will go, though).

    [1] So is spying. Espionage goes as far back as mankind. For that matter, predators in the wild watch their prey (in hiding) so they can attack at the right moment and there is no evidence to suggest this didn't happen before mankind (that's how wildlife functions regardless of human activity). There's a reason Caesar rotated the alphabet and more inventive methods were created over time (and this will continue regardless of what governments want just like they will keep going for more espionage in new ways).

  4. Anonymous

    May 20, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    What are the consequences of not following this law?

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